11 September 2008 by Published in: General musings 9 comments

Today marks seven years since the terrorist attacks that changed our world forever. Consequently, I’m going to stray into contemporary events for one day before returning to the normal business of this blog tomorrow.

I’ve already recounted my experiences on 9/11 here, so I won’t bore you with doing so again.

Instead, I want to focus on another issue.

In prior conflicts, it was always easy to define “win”. In the Civil War, for the North, “win” meant putting down the rebellion. In the South, “win” meant separation from the rest of the Union. In World War II, it meant defeating the forces of fascism and removing the militaristic regimes. Even in the Korean War, “win” meant to maintain the sovereignty of South Korea and, under MacArthur, eliminating the Communist regime.

In this Global War on Terror, as it’s called, we don’t have that luxury. People say we have to “win” in Iraq before we can leave. My problem is that I have no idea what that means. What does “win” mean in Iraq? What does it mean in Afghanistan? It seems to me that the definition of “win” is different in Iraq from what it is in Afghanistan. And those who question such things are accused of not being patriotic and not supporting the troops. Senator McCain, for whom I have always had a great deal of respect, can’t define these terms, either.

I don’t want to be overtly political here, but my antipathy for the Bush Administration is no secret. I can’t wait for him to leave office; tomorrow would not be soon enough. In 2004, I said I would have voted for a cinder block if the Democrats had nominated one, and I meant it.

Let’s never forget the sacrifices of the victims of 9/11 and their families. Let’s honor them appropriately, as happened today. I laud both Senator McCain and Senator Obama for setting aside petty partisan politics for one day today and for appearing together in New York. We are, after all, all Americans. At the same time, though, we need to define these terms and understand what it means to “win” this war on terrorism before more tens of billions of dollars are squandered with no real strategy or end game in mind.

Hopefully, our leaders will learn these lessons of history so that their mistakes will not be repeated. Or so I hope.

Scridb filter


  1. dan
    Thu 11th Sep 2008 at 10:22 pm

    >with no real strategy or end game in mind

    I recall that Stonewall Jackson never told any one of his subordinates what his plans were, what his end game was, and what his mission was. Didn’t Garnett get court-martialled at Second Kernstown because he withdrew instead of charging and upset Stonewall’s “plan”? He did exactly the right thing for the moment and for the cicumstances in his front, but it wasn’t in “the plan” (Jackson’s Plan), so he was arrested. At Gettysburg Garnett was one of the few officers on horseback- his court martial never having been concluded and dismissed. I am not suggesting that our current leaders are on a par with Jackson, but the theme is the same.

    In a nation at war is the government obligated to tell us the “end game” and the “strategy”? The end game is obvious. The end game is victory and not withdrawal in the midst of the fight. And what is “victory” in Iraq? It is the foundation of a civil society. A civil non-expansionist society that is less extreme than Iran or any other Islamist state, right there in the middle of the “Muslim World”?

    Can such a thing be possible?

    The nay-sayers would say that such an experiment, for that is exactly what it is, is an impossibility. The realists would suggest that we have little choice. The thousands of Iraqi voters with blue thumbs in Iraq would suggest that such an experiment is a worthy one and is within the realm of the possible. It is fundamentally important to our own security, and that of our friends and of democracies everywhere. When war is upon us we haven’t much option to debate the cause, we have to fight. 9/11 was not the first shot of the war.

    The suggestion that Iraq “wasn’t involved in 9/11” and therefore is not a legitimate war is absurd. Saddam broke numerous UN resolutions and broke the cease fire agreement that ended the first Gulf War which alone is cause for the current war. Let us just hope now that we are successful, and let us see this most important fight to the end and to a successful end.

  2. Fri 12th Sep 2008 at 12:06 am

    Well said, Eric.

  3. Fri 12th Sep 2008 at 1:02 am

    I just finished watching two hours of 9/11 shows and can say that seven years later I still get as angry as I was that day. We had every right to go to Afghanistan and hunt down every single monster we could find, including the biggest of them all. But no one will ever convince me going to Iraq was a good idea. I didn’t feel one bit better when Saddam hung at the end of the rope.

    Bush isn’t evil, but he’s misguided and worse, as far as Iraq goes, he was wrong. By the way, that doesn’t mean I don’t love my country. I’ll choose patriotism and exercise my right to dissent over drinking the Sean Hannity Kool-Aid.

  4. Art Bergeron
    Fri 12th Sep 2008 at 9:02 am

    Whatever negatives there are to say about President Bush, it is significant that we have not had another terrorist attack on our country in seven years.

  5. Fri 12th Sep 2008 at 11:18 am

    Just food for thought. If you take away the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. If you only look at the contemporary newspaper accounts, and say the proceedings of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, or other similar sources. And if you focus on a point in time, say 1862 after Antietam, or the summer of 1863, or even as late as the summer of 1864…. then would you be able to say that the Lincoln administration or the War Department really had a “plan”?

    As you are aware, war plans are often complex, ever evolving, and most importantly, held to some degree in secrecy from the general population. In 1864, Grant’s “public” plan was to take Richmond, Atlanta, and generally beat the Confederate field armies. In the summer of 1864 that plan didn’t seem to be working very well. But with our distance of the historical perspective, and access to the private correspondence, we know Grant was actually making progress, and indeed winning the war. Could things have gone better, faster, with less loss? Well lets not get off topic talking about craters and generals who drink, or of Phil and the Valley….

    My point would be that just because we don’t see a “plan” on the public side of things, doesn’t mean those in charge are just aimlessly throwing resources around. I would be willing to bet a case of the cold drink of your choice, come 25 years from now I can walk into the National Archives and point to some very explicit documents that demonstrate just such a plan was in place. If that plan was a sound one or not would be a debate we’d need to pause until those 25 years come to pass. At the same time I think we can all agree the current administration has not done well relating the bare basic “releasable” side of the plan to the general population. So points can be made today, but ultimately another generation of historians will have fertile ground to ply their trade.

    The lack of clarity as to what a “win” is with regard to the current war, is in some degree perception. The same lack of clarity could be indicated with regard to the Cold War, the Seminole Wars, or even The Civil War (did it end at Appomattox or with Reconstruction or with Martin Luther King?).

    Anyway, just my thoughts.

  6. Scott Smart
    Fri 12th Sep 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Good thoughts, plus in the Civil War we see a constant demand for “victories” which the politicians responded to. What I see as the current problem is a failure to communicate a strategic or grand strategic view which would place Iraq and Afghanistan into a context.

  7. Valerie Protopapas
    Sat 13th Sep 2008 at 11:35 am

    Grant and Lincoln knew that you cannot win a “guerrilla” war. The best that you can do is annihilate the people fighting it. Lee knew that as well which is why he resisted the call by his own officers and Jefferson Davis to send those who wanted to continue the struggle into the hills and woods. In fact, though Lee was disgusted and disillusioned by “reconstruction”, all that he would admit was that had he known how the Union would treat the South, he would not have surrendered but died with his men in battle. He did NOT suggest that he would have pursued a guerrilla response even hating as he did the oppressors of the South.

    It is believed that plan much like the “Werewolf” strategy initiated by Hitler was considered in Richmond. Mosby was called to the Confederate capitol and told that he would be commissioned a brigadier general and placed in charge of all of those forces – regular and irregular together with willing civilians – who wished to continue the fight. In a dispatch in the New York Herald of January 8th, 1865, correspondent Charles Farrell wrote the following:

    “On my late trip with our cavalry raid to Gordonsville, I made special inquiry in regard to the movements of the guerrilla bands which now infest the counties we passed through. It appears that Mosby’s late visit to Richmond was at the suggestion of Jeff Davis, to confer with his “Excellency” on the reorganization of the guerrilla bands of Eastern Virginia. The conference was had, Mosby was to receive the rank of brigadier general at the proper time. Fauquier county was to be the great rendezvous of the rebel bandits. Mosby’s command was to be raised to the maximum of eight battalions of four companies and then divided, as the necessities of the service required., into smaller detachments. All the gaps in the Blue Ridge were to be guarded by picked men, with fleet horses to herald the approach of our troops, and to give the signal for a concentration of their forces. a few detachments were to be a mobile force, to move from point to point, gathering conscripts and arming old men, who were to be local guerrillas, and authorized to murder and rob Yankees wherever found. A system of mountain signal stations were to be arranged, and the headquarters of the bands to be located in mountain fastnesses, secure from surprise or easy attack from our troops. The watchword of this organization was to be “No quarter to the Yankees” – no quarter under any pretense – no prisoners to be captured – “murder! murder!” was to be the cry.”

    Farrell then goes on to demand that the “men and women” of at least one county – Fauquier – should be driven out “with fire and sword until not a vestige of them or their places remain to blot the fair face of the earth.” Of course, Farrell conveniently “forgets” that this particular strategy was in fact the way that federal troops had been waging war in Virginia and elsewhere in the South for years – but the point is that it was obvious even to a journalist that once a people have determined to wage that kind of war, any “victory” will be pyrrhic at best and that only annihilation of the populace will end the bloodshed. However, it is also well to note that try as a nation may, in very few instances is it possible to destroy ALL such enemies and the human memory is long – very, very long.

    However, the type of war being waged now is not one of an attempt to throw off an aggressor – whatever the Arab press may say – but to do what the Ottoman Empire was unable to do before the Gates of Vienna in 1600s – make the West into a Muslim enclave. The people we face today are very much like the aliens in “Independence Day”. When the President asks one such what men can do to “get along” with them, the creature truthfully responds, “Die!” and, alas, that’s all that we will be able to do to please those who committed the atrocities on September 11th, 2001.

    I don’t know about anybody else, but I agree with General Patton: the object of war is not to die for one’s country, but to make the other s.o.b. die for his!

  8. Matt McKeon
    Sat 13th Sep 2008 at 3:45 pm

    I’m sure Robert E. Lee really, really wanted to win the Civil War. I’m sure that Pickett’s Charge was not the way to do it. In fact it contributed to Confederate defeat.

    I’m sure George W. Bush really wanted to win against the “evil doers.” Invading Iraq was not the way to do that.

    The United States is too strong and al-Qaeda is too weak for us to lose. But in order to win we have to be more than strong. We have to be smart.

    In September, 2001, the government didn’t defend the American people, the American people defended the government(in Flight 93) or themselves(in the shoe bomber case). In September, 2001, the American people didn’t panic, but the government has been leaning on the panic button nonstop since. Why should terrorists attack the US again? The government is intent on terrorizing us themselves.

    In the attack on Afganistan, we broke up al Qaeda and
    demostrrated American strength, will, and brains. In the invasion of Iraq we’ve lost 4000 people, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis. What have we, the United States, won?

  9. Valerie Protopapas
    Sat 13th Sep 2008 at 6:32 pm

    These people have an agenda that is proven. They want a Muslim world, period. They will accept nothing less. They aren’t trying to gain territory for Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan – that is beside the point. Talk about “one worlders”, these people are them because their agenda is over-arching and not limited to petty national issues. They will not rest until everyone on earth is Muslim – or dead. It’s really as simple as that.

    The important point is, WHEN ARE WE GOING TO RECOGNIZE THAT FACT? As long as we continue to look at these people as “misunderstood” or attempting to dislodge “occupying forces” or any of the other ordinary political cause and military objective, WE ARE GOING TO LOSE. One must consider that dealing with these folks is like trying to negotiate with a rabid dog or a man-eating lion – you aren’t speaking their language and they aren’t about to consider your point of view. They cannot be reasoned with or bought or coerced. So long as they are able to do so, they will kill – first us and then each other.

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